William Morris and his legacy

An upcoming exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery will look at the work and legacy of William Morris, and his influence on designers including Eric Gill and Sir Terence Conran.

William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884

Source: © National Portrait Gallery, London

William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884

Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960, is curated by Morris biographer Fiona MacCarthy, and will look at the designer’s work, politics and philosophy.

It will aim to draw a line from the late-Victorian ‘art for the people’ movement initiated by Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, through Arts and Crafts practitioners such as Gill and Edward Carpenter, to the Garden City movement and post-war British designers such as Conran and Abram Games.

Festival of Britain poster by Abram Games, 1951

Source: © V&A, London 2014

Festival of Britain poster by Abram Games, 1951

MacCarthy says, ‘Now in the 21st century our art and design culture is widespread. But its global sophistication brings new anxieties.

‘We find ourselves returning to many of Morris’s preoccupations with craft skills and the environment, with local sourcing, with vernacular traditions, with art as a vital force within society, binding together people of varying backgrounds and nationalities.’

Satchel Owned by William Morris

Source: © William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest

Satchel owned by William Morris

She adds, ‘The exhibition, as I see it, will not only explore what William Morris’s vision was but will suggest ways in which his radical thinking still affects the way we live our lives.’

Key exhibits in the exhibition will include Morris’s handwritten Socialist Diary from the British Library and his gold-tooled hand-bound copy of Karl Marx’s Le Capital.

Garden Roller: ‘Adam and Eve’  by David Kindersley, designed by Eric Gill c.1933

Source: © Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery)

Garden Roller: ‘Adam and Eve’ by David Kindersley, designed by Eric Gill c.1933

Also on show will be CR Ashbee’s Peacock Brooch, Eric Gill’s erotic garden roller Adam and Eve and Edward Carpenter’s sandals, which apparently sparked a sandal-wearing craze among Britain’s left-leaning intelligentsia.

Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960 is at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London WC2H, from 16 October 2014-11 January 2015.

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